"Eggs," a 2005 ink jet print by Olivia Parker on view in new retrospective show at Peabody Essex Museum.
"Eggs," a 2005 ink jet print by Olivia Parker on view in new retrospective show at Peabody Essex Museum.

The Peabody Essex Museum — PEM for short — is a worthy destination for a summer day-trip. Located in Salem, it offers an array of interesting exhibits to challenge and satisfy the senses.

Its new show is Order of Imagination: The Photographs of Olivia Parker, on view July 13 through Nov. 11.

For over 40 years, Parker has used photography to explore the relationships between vision, knowledge and the natural world. From deceptively simple still lifes that transform the commonplace to her most recent work exploring memory loss, the exhibit features more than 100 intricately composed photographs that reflect her creativity, range and unflagging curiosity.

This is the first exhibition to present a comprehensive retrospective of Parker's extensive career.

Widely acclaimed, her work is represented in major collections including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the George Eastman Museum and PEM.

Originally trained as a painter, the Massachusetts-based Parker was drawn to photography for its ability to create a controlled dialogue between nature and abstraction, permanence and the short-lived, and for its ability to use light to sculpt form and define space.

Now in her 70s, Parker switched from painting to photography in the early 1970s, a time that coincided with an expanding photography community in Boston. Her early works were assembled still lifes from a variety of found objects including shells, feathers, animal skeletons, scrap metal, maps and old books. She coaxes out meaning through these distinctive compositions and mastery of light. An array of her found objects is included in the exhibition.


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She has embraced new technologies, including Photoshop and was one of the first artists to use digital photography in her fine art practice. The exhibition concludes with her most recent photographs that detail the impact that Alzheimer's disease had on her late husband John. He died in 2016, but she continues to work on the series.

"Her interest in the world — the natural and the world of ideas — is expansive and endless," said Sarah Kennel, PEM's curator of photography. "She is intensely curious and deeply intelligent, and I hope visitors are inspired and delighted with the opportunity to step into Parker's distinctive, imaginative realm."

PEM is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For info, call 866-745-1876 or visit www.pem.org.

Nancye Tuttle's email address is nancyedt@verizon.net